Today we kick off our Super Series preview of Khans of Tarkir. Over the past three weeks we have been previewing Khans of Tarkir cards, and now we are going to dive into a little more application. This will be a series of decks fully inspired by Khans of Tarkir coming into standard that you can look to sleeve up and play at a competitive level. We will take an in depth look at the card choices, the reasons, and the applications. While I don’t have the testing resources of the larger teams out there, and we don’t know the meta game and what will emerge, I will try my best to bring you these decks that will surely make an impact early on and with your comments we can evolve them together. This time I am not limiting myself to any particular color wedge or combination.
Our first series will be looking at a very fast and aggressive deck based in the Mardu (RWB) color wedge with a very tribal nature to it, which is my Warriors of Mardu build. When we first saw Warrior tokens getting spoiled by Herald of Anafenza, many were confused as to why they were not soliders, a common weenie aggressive archetype in Standard. I believe Warriors is going to have a chance to surpass soldiers and has been kind enough to provide three colors to do it with. The important part about these colors is they are: 1) Very fast and aggressive 2) Provide many options to play with 3) Provide control options to diversify the game plan.
Here is the build:
3 Butcher of the Horde
2 Chief of the Scale
4 Chief of the Edge
4 Bloodsoaked Champion
4 Mardu Skullhunter
4 Mardu Hateblade
4 Borderland Marauder
3 Mardu Hordechief
Noncreature Spells (8)
4 Mardu Charm
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Rush of Battle
2 Raiders’ Spoils
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Temple of Silence
3 Nomad Outpost
1 Battlefield Forge
2 Timely Hordemate
3 Utter End
2 Athreos, God of Passage
4 Banishing Light
With 28 creatures in the deck it is quite obvious that this deck is all about being aggressive and getting in for damage quite quickly. Our noncreature spells provide anthem affects, clear paths, provide card advantage, or create more creatures to further up the aggressive feeling of this deck. But it shouldn’t be taken as an easy to play drop and swing deck, as it has a lot of choices to make and the sideboard options are quite bountiful. Let’s take a look at the deck.
Main Board Creatures
This deck, unlike many aggressive decks, only puts 8 turn one drops into play. There are two big reasons for that; the first reason being the slower mana base. 7 lands come into play tapped, and 9 are dealing damage to you in order to produce colors. The second reason is simply the pure power level of the two drops in the deck outclassing our one drop options too much. The deck chooses to feature both of the one drops in the deck from Khans of Tarkir in the form of Bloodsoaked Champion and Mardu Hateblade.
The Bloodsoaked Champion was an automatic inclusion in this deck; one mana for a 2/1 creature that has the ability to recur itself directly back onto the battlefield for just two mana makes it one of the more powerful cards not only in the deck, but the format. It might also be far and above the most powerful one drop in the format and helps ensure you can keep pressure on. My second choice was to go with the Mardu Hateblade, which is a debatable card. Mardu Hateblade is a 1/1 that can give itself deathtouch for one black. I feel this provides a very efficient card if you attack before playing your other spells as it can push damage through fairly well. It also acts a highly effective chump blocker if you are in a bind.
Notable Exclusions: I want to take a moment to also talk about cards that I considered but that didn’t make the cut for the deck. In this case Tormented Hero and Herald of Anafenza are the two notable cards that could have made the deck, with either likely in place of the Hateblade. Tormented Hero gets a strong nod for inclusion due to it being a 2/1 creature, but with no cards that take advantage of his secondary ability and then forcing the deck to always have untapped black mana to start the game was hard, and because of that I decided against it. My original build actually ran the Herald over Hateblade even though he isn’t a Warrior. The deck doesn’t run a 3 drop creature and only one spell, which made the Outlast ability appealing, as the Herald becomes a 2/3 and creates a 1/1 Warrior token. It also provided a great mana sink later in the game. The drawback for me turned out to be that outlast taps down the Herald and the token doesn’t have haste. So the early aggression strategy is now slowed down a turn providing my opponent the ability to stabilize and the Herald itself lacks synergy with key cards in the deck.
Here is where the bulk of the work is done with this deck, as it brings in 14 creatures that drop for two mana. With nothing in the deck costing more than four mana, it makes having access to four the sweet spot for the deck. Who are these amazing creatures? Chief of the Edge, Chief of the Scale, Mardu Skullhunter, and Borderland Marauder, all very efficient creatures that provide extra advantages to the deck. As you likely guessed the deck was built around the two new Chief cards which provide anthem effects to all Warrior creatures. Chief of the Edge grants +1/0 while Chief of the Scale grants 0/+1. In my first build these two cards were both an automatic four of, but as I found myself needing to cut cards I found myself cutting Chief of the Scale down.
With an aggressive strategy I didn’t want to waste slots pumping up my defense, but I couldn’t cut him completely. While the Edge had obvious applications to the deck, the Scale provided some that were less than obvious, he really made the survivability of the deck increased, made it harder for opponents to exchange, and made an easy choice of a creature you could sideboard out if you had to. The Borderland Marauder is a proven commodity in aggressive decks; the base two toughness while being strong on the attack was a key reason it was included. Mardu Skullhunter proved to be an interesting addition from Khans of Tarkir and utilizing the raid ability to force a discard. I like card advantage a lot and the 2/1 body made him even better; he also makes an easy side out against control matchups that make it hard to utilize Raid.
Notable Exclusions: I feel here I had three very notable cards I didn’t include in the deck and two of them garnered considerable amount of consideration. Oreskos Swiftclaw is the first being a Warrior with a 3/1 body. As a matter of fact until I reached this portion of the article Swiftclaw was a three of in the build and I chose to change that out, as I was running with no three drops in the curve and I wanted to find a slot for Mardu Hordechief. The card that received the MOST attention from me and I feel might end up being the biggest mistake in not having was Seeker of the Ways. A solid 2/2 body with Prowess that boosts him for one turn and gives him lifelink.
With only 8 cards that activate prowess and only 4 of them being at instant speed in the mainboard, it made it very difficult to include him for the Prowess. I gave a lot of thought to how he would look post sideboard with 11 of my 15 being noncreature spells, but the matchups those cards come in against are matchups that either the lifelink didn’t matter, or he wouldn’t be better than one of the previous options. The other neglected card was the War-Named Aspirant, who in my humble opinion is an excellent card. 2/1 body that comes in as a 3/2 with the raid ability, and can’t be chump blocked by creatures with power 1 or less which considering the amount I expect to see Sylvan Caryatid in the coming months was very tempting. The problem was becoming too reliant on raid and what to cut. The Chiefs weren’t going and Borderland Marauder was more consistent; this left my other two drop raid creature in Mardu Skullhunter. A split would make the Skullhunter bad and I liked his cantrip better, so I will test with both but at the moment I feel Skullhunter is the way to go.
A nice short section here as we have Mardu Hordechief, which didn’t get re-included in the deck until halfway through this article. I didn’t like the Hordechief at first because I was becoming too reliant on Raid, but after consideration the 2/3 body was good and if I had attacked, which is what the deck should be doing anyway, then adding in the 1/1 Warrior token was gravy. There wasn’t room here for a four of and I am not really worried about that.
Notable Exclusions: If anything I feel that right here is where the deck could be judged the most, possibly even tweaked the most. If I was to drop some more two drops or some noncreature spells maybe I could have slotted in some more three drops. Goblin Rabblemaster and Kragma Butcher to me felt like the two most notable exclusions from the 75. The Butcher is a nice 2/3 body with inspired, but I felt that overall it wasn’t that great to have an inconsistent 4/3 with no evasion to really help it. The Rabblemaster might end up making his way in over the Hordechief eventually, but hasn’t got me there yet. Firstly, he is a Warrior which is a good thing as he gets the extra pumps, and secondly his constant forced token generation assist with getting raid up. My biggest reasons for exclusion was the fact if I slotted Rabblemaster in, I’d likely bring in War-Named Aspirant and now I am also looking at a much more difficult manabase to deal with, which is something to note. But there will be testing.
I am a big believer that every aggressive deck should have a big end game finisher. For the longest time mine was NOT Butcher of the Horde, but I will touch on that later. I will start out with the obvious; Butcher of the Horde is not a warrior and does not get the bonus effects from the Chiefs, the lifelink from Rush of Battle, or the card draw from Raider’s Spoils. What he does do is serve as a 5/4 Flyer for four mana that can gain Lifelink, Vigilance, or Haste by sacrificing a creature. This made me stand up and say hello to my Bloodsoaked champion who has some very nice synergy with Butcher of the Horde. His ability to sac creatures out who were being chump blocked or targeted with removal, he provided a valuable enough interaction to be worth it, came at a low mana cost, and had built in evasion the deck was lacking. If I wasn’t running the Raider’s Spoils for the card draw he might have moved to a four of in the deck.
Notable Exclusions: Zurgo Helmsmasher and Ankle Shanker were the other two cards thought about bringing in. As the meta evolves I could see Ankle Shanker making it as a one of main board or a multiple copy in the sideboard, giving all creatures first strike and deathtouch effectively turns your field into a sweeper that is very difficult to stop. Helmsmasher was in here at first because he was a Warrior, and the Mardu Warchief for lack of a better example plus 7/2 haste, indestructible on your turn and gets bigger for killing things. There is a lot going on here for 5 mana, but what isn’t going on was evasion, while he could arguably be the best finisher that I could have access too, he didn’t provide the umph or evasion that either Buther or Ankle Shanker could so outside of his awesome flavour it was hard to include him in the deck.
When I started building this deck I knew two things from the outset, I wanted 24 lands, and four copies of Mardu Charm, which I felt was the only no brainer spell to have in the deck. Often aggro doesn’t have very many answers to what your opponent is doing and if they do it normally takes away from the deck; Mardu Charm doesn’t do that which is what makes it such an all-star card. It can deal four damage to target creature, flash in two 1/1 Warrior tokens that have first strike until the end of turn, and provides instant speed discard for troublesome spells and more importantly Planeswalkers. The big hype right now around the interwebs is about Green Ramp and Monoblack Aggro; in both match ups this card would shine (it shines in any match up really).
Mardu Charm answers some very annoying creatures in the format; as a matter of fact you are pretty much only not answering Surrak Dragonclaw, Siege Rhino, and Polukranos with the four damage this card is dealing out. It also has some major defender tricks with flashing two 1/1 first strikers in when your opponent attacks, more so when the deck is running a few anthem affects that are constantly in play to possibly make it a 2/1 first striker! Finally instant speed discard can never be overlooked, more so if your opponent is so kind as to be running a Courser of Kruphix that shows you a Planeswalker on top of the deck. What is most important about this charm is that it is never dead and very flexible.
This left me with four spots remaining and access to a wide birth of great cards. I would drop in some creature or hand control, maybe some burn to progress the damage, or maybe even an Ascendency to put more pressure on the field. At the end of a LOT of debate and testing I ended up with a bit of a weird split of cards; two Raiders Spoils, one Rush of Battle, and one Sorin, Solemn Visitor. I went with this combination mainly for versatility and being hard to predict, but also for the upsides.
Decks like this one need an anthem affect to help push the damage through and Raiders Spoils does a nice job of that. The card gives all creatures you control +1/0 and provides a nice boost for the Warriors, card draw. Every time one of my Warriors deal combat damage to a player I may pay one life and draw one card, this deck is aggressive and should always be on the attack so having the option is very nice. Heavily aggressive decks are often known for running out of fuel, other aggressive decks in the format will have that same issue, this one provides me with the extra fuel I need to stay on point even if I just draw one or two cards off of it. Rush of Battle had much the same purpose, a nice anthem for all my creatures getting +2/+1, but all my Warriors gain life link until end of turn. This is a great finishing card or a useful card to pull you out of a tight jam or make up for your damaging card draw or lands.
Finally I arrived with one card slot left and pretty much knew that I had to include Sorin in this deck. His first ability of giving all creatures +1/0 and Lifelink until the end of the turn was pretty important for the deck. I wanted to slot more in, but I came to find it would be rare situations that I would use either of Sorin’s other abilities in this deck and other cards simply outshined him. He couldn’t be excluded, but he wasn’t so important as to warrant a 3-4 of in the deck. I also liked that if opponents saw him in game one they would board for him and he wasn’t a key strategy to the deck. With that I ended up with my 8 noncreature spells.
Notable Exclusions: For this section I am not going to mention any of the 11 noncreature spells that made the 75, but are in the sideboard as I have acknowledged their importance against specific matchups. But that said, there are still noncreature spells that got some serious attention in the 75. Crackling Doom, Mardu Ascendency, Hero’s Downfall, Anger of the Gods, Bile Blight, Decide, Despise, and Barrage of Boulders being the obvious ones and the ones I gave the most consideration to. So let us take a look at why none of these cards made the 75.
Hero’s Downfall, Anger of the Gods, and Bile Blight all didn’t make it for pretty much the same reason the double mana cost. The deck really can’t afford to take the double red, it has enough other ways to answer issues that Hero’s Downfall wasn’t needed. I felt that my creatures were big enough and fast enough to deal with token decks, so Bile Blight didn’t make the cut. Mardu Ascendency is an amazing card, but this just wasn’t the deck for it even though it produced a lot of creatures, I may change my mind here if I choose to bring Goblin Rabblemaster into the deck. Deicide wasn’t needed as we don’t yet know the impact of Gods on the format, and Crackling Doom was in the deck for a long time, but it slowed us down and in the end I felt we had better options for this type of deck.
The two that had the most consideration were Despise and Barrage of Boulders. Despise was almost a consideration as it was great to be able to rip creatures and walkers without losing the life, at the end of the day though without truly knowing the meta we were able to provide enough other answers, and Thoughtseize just became a better option in the sideboard with only Mardu Charm making inclusion for main board discard. The other card that got consideration was maybe a bit of a surprise, but Barrage of Boulders which seemed like a great answer to tokens and Monoblack/red aggro decks. If our deck could consistently hit Ferocious territory it might have gotten a bigger inclusion, but at the end of the day it just wasn’t worth the slot.
The one thing I understand is that in three colors there are a lot of options and of course you should experiment with what is out there, this was just a look at cards that were considered but didn’t make the cut.
We reach the final leg of our journey and likely the hardest to make choices for. We had to choose 15 cards and walk into an unknown meta and hope that we could figure it out, but we do know some things. We know that green ramp is going to be prevalent paired up with some color likely with that we can guess a few of the staples. We know aggressive decks will exist, more so early and that means Monoblack, Monored, and likely some tokens will be running around the field, and of course control will return with a slew of different color options. So the best bet was to prepare for control, aggressive, and aggro ramp.
We already have a good matchup against aggressive decks. We are just as quick and have better toughness on our creatures, have the best anthem effects, lifelink, and that ability to keep our engine going. Sideboard cards like Timely Hordemate and Athreos, God of Passage made the most sense as they continued to assist with keeping our engine going or doing damage when we exchanged creatures in combat. There is no real reason to move away from the base plan, just alter how it works to make it stronger against a similar match that we should already be strong against.
The expected emergence of the ramp decks proved to be a bit trickier depending on the colors they played. Anger of the Gods, Hornet Queen, Barrage of Boulders, and Prophet of Kruphix are all extremely troublesome cards that Monogreen Ramp, GR Ramp, UG Ramp, or RUG Ramp had access to. If our strategy hit early we could overwhelm and over power, but I am not one to draw on hopes that we can be consistent when they have high defense creatures that come out fast to stand in our way. They also have access to a lot of Planeswalkers, in particular Nissa and Xenagos that provide major issues. Banishing Light, Thoughtseize, and Utter End give us the utilities we need to counter these issues combined with our Mardu Charm. Suddenly removing Raiders Spoils, Sorin, Rush of Battle, our pair of Chief of the Scales, as well as Mardu Hordechiefs gave us 9 slots to work with, and 4 Banishing Light, 3 Utter End, and 2 Thoughtseize provide more consistency to the matchup.
Finally it came down to control and how do we board here, what is useful here and it was at that moment I realized that depending on the type of control you are running into all 15 cards were useful in the control matchup. Timely Hordemate and Athreos, God of Passage provided a way to keep your creatures alive, Thoughtseize got troublesome spells and Planeswalkers out of an opponents’ hand, while Utter End and Banishing Light were excellent answers to the finishing creature, plansewalker, or troubling enchantment. Suddenly we could rely on a handful of efficient creatures and play a controlling game right back and answer everything they throw at us.
Overall I felt that we end up with favourable match ups all around thanks to our sideboard options and was shocked at the decks ability to play a slow mid ranged game as well as a quick aggressive game. There are way too many options available to test every card in the color wedge and honestly I didn’t even look at the artifacts when constructing this. So there are certainly more options available and if you think I missed one or have suggestions please let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, keep on searching.